The Department of Education recently issued its long-awaited final gainful employment rule — which attempts to link federal student aid to loan repayment rates. It was broadly criticized from all corners.
Gainful employment has become the "Goldilocks" of federal rules: many argue that it is too onerous; others say it doesn’t do enough to address the issue of rising student debt, and others insist the department missed an opportunity to hold all of higher education to high standards.
The only thing about the rule that everyone agrees on is it’s not “just right.”
But there is a better approach for addressing the issues that confront students seeking higher education – especially at career colleges. To help shape this, we joined a panel of higher education leaders — including Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, an education professor at Harvard University; Jonathan Fanton, former president of both the MacArthur Foundation and the New School for Social Research, and Elizabeth Morgan, executive director of the Grad Nation campaign for America’s Promise.
Our panel’s first objective is to help career colleges develop standards of conduct and transparency that extend beyond current federal, state and accreditation regulations. We are also looking for ideas and input from academia, advocacy organizations, business groups, non-profits and the military. By reaching out, we can ensure that the students are the ultimate beneficiaries and gain the most from a higher education.
These new standards will affect virtually every aspect of career colleges and can serve as a model for all higher education. For example, our panel is outlining operating principles that can improve and ensure strong new protections for students while increasing transparency to students and training for staff.
Student protections can mean disclosure of full tuition costs and fees, clear guidelines on transfer of credits, methods to ensure financial aid applications are clear and improved focus on job placement. We will also develop an enforcement mechanism to ensure that career colleges strictly adhere to the new standards.
Most career colleges do a good job helping students develop the skills they need to find the work they want. Some, however, can clearly do better. We intend to offer our recommendations as a way to improve a sector that means so much to so many students who have no alternative for higher education.
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